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A NOC is a Network Operations Center, and it’s a single location where IT professionals can monitor and manage their network, including the health, availability and status of endpoints. Your NOC will usually be a physical place with multiple monitors where you can view all the important metrics about the enterprise, and will provide the first signs of any problems in service. In a complex networking environment, a NOC will be a must-have for visibility and control.

What is a NOC responsible for?

NOC (pronounced knock) will manage and monitor IT environments, often across multiple locations, ensuring that the business has optimal network performance, and eliminating the risk of downtime. Activities that a Network Operations Center might manage includes, monitoring of the network, server, network and device management including patch management and updates, incident response to issues such as power or network failures, backup and storage, and often some security elements of network management, too.

In some cases, you might find that the business has a dedicated SOC (security operations center) that manages security-related tasks such as firewall and intrusion prevention, antivirus, and disaster recovery.

A strong NOC will also provide some customer management or service tasks, such as collecting feedback from users to improve your service, vendor or independent contractor management, and supporting best-practice follow through of your Service Level Agreements.

Why do I need a NOC?

A NOC is the very epicenter of your business, a centralized place where nothing is hidden, and the right expertise can quickly and directly fix any issues that could negatively impact service, availability and performance.

In today’s complex IT environments, there is so much that could go wrong. Missing a patching schedule could leave you open to a cyber vulnerability, while a mistake in coding could cause misconfiguration. The wrong use of customer data or information might leave you at risk of a compliance breach, while too much load on the network can impact availability and speed, leading to customer frustration and churn. Everyone in the business has their own role that they need to be on top of, so you need a team who is on top of it all. This maintenance and monitoring is essential, or it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks and get unnoticed until it’s too late.

Your NOC is the peace of mind you need to know you have an “eye in the sky”, a first line of defense against any potential threats, and the right staff in place to handle any eventuality as soon as it occurs.

Should a NOC be internal or external?

The truth is, it’s up to you how you organize your NOC. Some companies prefer to have their NOC in-house, while others, especially smaller companies may prefer to outsource to an MSP, MSSP, or other third-party vendor. You might find that due to the Great Resignation and technical skills gap, it’s tough to afford and retain technicians and technical expertise in-house, and so a managed service provider could be a better choice for your needs. On the other side of the coin, you might have a large enough environment that you want to manage your own Network Operations Center yourself, which will certainly give you better control over the tasks that stakeholders are responsible for.

What are some NOC best practices for my business?

Here are some ideas for building a NOC that is successful and robust, and will allow you to gain efficiency without losing control.

1. Use one technology that provides all the insight you need

You’re going to need some technical help when it comes to monitoring and maintenance, but the more tools you use, the more likely you are to have gaps or blind spots. For example, imagine you have one tool to monitor network availability, and another that’s managing the signs of a cyber attack. Suddenly you have two sets of alerts, two notification areas to track, and two dashboards to split your attention. A single tool makes all of this a lot simpler. Write down a list of all the functions you want to be responsible for, whether that’s patch management, incident response, monitoring or even helpdesk, and then ensure your technology of choice checks all the boxes.

2. Pick the right people

The usual process for a NOC is to have various technicians with different levels of expertise. That means that any incident can be triaged and sent to the right person. A level 1 technician might handle a disruption in service or a slow connection time, while a level 3 technician will receive alerts on system shutdown or a potential cyberattack. AI is making waves in creating dynamic routing for alerts and notifications to allow the right tasks to land in the right techie’s inbox.

3. Choose the right KPIs to track

How will you know if your NOC is working well if you aren’t tracking the data behind it? Here are some ideas for NOC performance metrics to track:

Wireless KPIs: Signal strength, interference, client volume on the network, and number of AP connections to controllers could all be helpful to track.

Business KPIs: Consider following metrics such as MTTR (Mean time to resolution), time to respond, volume of tickets that SLA, network equipment age and repair schedule.

Infrastructure KPIs: This is where you look at details such as power, cooling, backups, connections and rack space.

Traffic KPIs: Following your network traffic means measuring packet drops, latency, the availability of specific applications, and how often you’re using that all-important 95th percentile.

The right technology can make building your NOC much simpler, and ensure that you have everything you need to monitor and maintain network performance in a single tool.

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